Moorpark College, home of some of Ventura County's most interesting theater, tonight launches a new play, "Voices." Billed as "an interracial love story with roots in slavery," the drama was written by Les Weider, theater arts and television professor at the college.
Weider was researching abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth when he heard the "Slave Narratives," an oral history of antebellum slavery. The history was recorded by Fisk University in the 1930s under the auspices of the federal Works Progress Administration.
"I thought they would make a good play and got a sabbatical from the college to write a play involving black history and contemporary issues," he said. "I went to the Library of Congress and studied the tapes; 'Voices' took almost eight months to write."
The play's protagonists are a 30-year-old white college professor and a 27-year-old black playwright.
Weider, 47, is white; his wife, Tyree, vice president of administration at Valley College in Van Nuys, is black. Still, Weider said, the play does not document their own relationship.
"My wife and I have been married for 15 years, and we were both old enough and secure enough in our own careers that many of the questions that occur to (the play's protagonists) Lena Walker and David Lang didn't concern us as much.
"But this kind of dialogue does exist. We have similar situations within our own families, and I've got a lot of people from the college working on the show who are involved in multiracial relationships and recognize the situations in the play. It is meant to encourage dialogue on the subject."
"Voices" was first performed in August as a reading before an invited audience at the United Methodist Church in Hollywood. It was produced by Attallah Shabazz, daughter of the late black activist Malcolm X.
"She's a producer and lecturer living in New York whom I'd met while working on the Sojourner Truth project," Weider said. "Voices" features a cast of 12, with nine actors portraying 33 slaves who "speak" to playwright Walker as she contemplates her relationship with Lang.
While most of the cast is drawn from the immediate Moorpark College community, members of the audience might recognize Prince Hughes, a former student of Weider's who co-starred in the Home Box Office series "First and 10."
The Sojourner Truth project, potentially a six-hour TV miniseries, is in development, Weider said. Calling "Voices" a workshop, Weider said he intends to continue to work on the play after this production.
"I'd like to produce it in L. A. initially," he said. "Everything after that, we'll see. Hopefully, we'll tour it; the play is something that people should respond to."